CHICAGO (AP) __ A rematch that pits ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich against the U.S. government begins in earnest as the courtroom adversaries deliver their opening statements to jurors Monday __ eight months after Blagojevich’s first corruption trial ended with a hung jury.
Just what detail they choose emphasize may depend partly on who ends up in the jury box, something lawyers won’t know for sure until the final selection of 12 jurors and six alternates out of more than 40 people still in the jury pool happens first thing Monday morning.
No matter who’s in, prosecutors are certain to paint a picture of the twice-elected governor as steeped in sleaze and driven by greed. Defense attorneys are likely to concede Blagojevich could be crude and profane, but they’ll also insist he never crossed the line into criminality.
Blagojevich’s first trial last summer ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one count. This time, Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges __ from attempted extortion of a children’s hospital executive to conspiracy to commit bribery in a bid to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a well-paying job. Judge James Zagel, who also presided over the initial trial, has warned he intends to keep the defense on a shorter leash. He’s ruled the defense can’t revive a favorite argument __ that playing every secret FBI recordings made of Blagojevich would clear him. Defense attorney also can’t try to infer their client’s innocence on grounds he may have enacted beneficial policies as governor. If the defense strays into those lines of arguments Monday, Zagel would likely intervene.
Monday’s opening will be prosecutors’ first chance to roll out their simplified, more focused case. They dropped complex racketeering charges against Blagojevich and dropped all charges against his co-defendant at the first trial, his brother, Robert Blagojevich. Some criticized prosecutors at the first trial for delivering a complex case in a dry, just-the-facts mode, saying they must tell a better story and with more emotion. So theatrical was the defense, by contrast, that the presentation sometimes threatened to descend into farce.
It wasn’t immediately clear which of three government attorneys will address jurors Monday. Last year, it was Carrie Hamilton, whose refrain then was that Blagojevich __ faced with official decisions __ always had his hand out for campaign cash and asked, “’What about me?”’ Aaron Goldstein will do the opening for the defense, Blagojevich spokesman Glenn Selig said Sunday. The sometimes sardonic but subdued 36-year-old has spent much of his career in state court. At the first trial, the opening was delivered by an attorney no longer on the defense, Sam Adam Jr. He shouted, whispered and cracked jokes as he paced the courtroom, telling jurors Blagojevich was fooled by confidants but that he “didn’t take a dime” of illegal money.
After the openings, prosecutors were expected to call their first witness, FBI agent Dan Cain. As he did at the outset of the first trial, Cain will lay the groundwork for the prosecution by explaining how the FBI carried out its secret surveillance of Blagojevich. If convicted on all counts, Blagojevich would face a maximum prison term of 350 years __ though guidelines would dictate he get far less. He already faces five years for his conviction at the first trial on a charge of lying to the FBI.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)